CRAG response to Channel 4 documentary on WW1 which included a section on the Armenian Genocide - 16 October 2003
To Mr Alan Clements, Executive Producer, Channel 4
Dear Mr Clements:
On behalf of the Campaign for Recognition of the Armenian Genocide (CRAG), we would like first and foremost to express our appreciation to Channel 4 that the fourth episode of the excellent 'The First World War' documentary entitled Jihad (11 October 2003) comprised also a five-minute reference to the Armenian Genocide.
Having said that, and in view of the sheer breadth of the topic, we also noted that many critical points that constituted an historical background to this horrible event during WWI were missing from the episode. This was felt not only by ourselves as an organisation whose univocal task is the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, but also by Armenian British C4 viewers who shared their impressions with us after the showing of the said episode.
Allow us to share a few - hopefully - constructive comments with you about the programme, and in so doing also draw your attention to some salient facts that have been established by historians, genocide scholars and states across the world recognising the Armenian Genocide as the first man-made aberration of the 20th century.
1) The 5-minute sequence took the whole chapter of the Armenian Genocide as an apostrophe within a wider context, and did not explain that the events during WWI could be better understood if the earlier massacres of Armenians by Ottoman Turkey in the late 1880's, mid 1890's and 1909 were first put into proper focus.
2) The focus was also inordinately disproportionate in 'establishing' a close identification between Armenian Turks allying themselves in 'great numbers' with Russia against Turkey in their pursuit for independence and the concomitant result of genocide. Such an alliance did occur, particularly in Van before and after the Russians captured it, but that was a result of the earlier massacres that had introduced fear in Armenian minds and hearts and encouraged their quest for self-determination. Besides, this Armenian resistance is also a reflection on the Ottoman Turkish lack of care and protection for its own Armenian Turkish citizens living in different regions of Anatolia.
3) Surprisingly enough, no mention at all was made of 24 April 1915. This is the trigger date acknowledged world-wide as the start of the major pogroms that have qualified as 'genocide' according to the view of a whole host of legal and historical scholars. Not mentioning this date disinvested those 5 minutes of contiguous reality.
4) The figures that were used by the programme do not conform with those used by many other scholars. Those figures total around 1.5 million Armenian deaths. Even the reference to the deprotations gave almost the impression that this was a limited incident! Journalists today, the likes of Robert Fisk, have often written about the testimony of scores of Armenian skulls buried beneath the shallow sands of the inhospitable Der Zor Desert.
5) The connexion between the genocide of Armenians and Turkish 'security' established two benchmarks that appeared to be running parallel in importance. Whilst Ottoman Turkey did have legitimate concerns, they did not warrant the degree and severity of the riposte that attempted to cleanse Armenians from the region and establish (as the programme itself suggested) a Turkic region devoid of non-Turkic ethnic peoples. In fact, most Armenians had already been disarmed in early 1914 and could not therefore have posed a serious threat to the outcome of the fighting that took place in Gallipoli, Caucasus or Palestine hundreds of miles away.
6) The programme did not mention the word 'genocide' at all except to refer to it as a 'furious' row between Turks, Armenians and the whole world community. This is inaccurate given the wealth of documents - some by Holocaust historians and scholars - on the topic acknowledging in both political and academic terms the veracity of the genocide against Armenians. The CRAG website at www.24april.org, with its limited ambit, is devoted to this topic and provides hyperlinks to well over twenty other websites that also tackle those issues.
7) Similarly, there was a sorry absence of references and acknowledgements to all the reports / statements
by international scholars and academics. From the Report by Dr Alfred de Zayas in Geneva, to the International Center for Transitional Justice, to the Turkish Amenian Reconciliation Commission, to the Association of Genocide Scholars, to the 126 Holocaust Scholars, to the Statement of 150 Concerned Scholars and Writers and to the Jewish Scholars let alone to the 1916 British 'Blue Book', there has been ample and uninterrupted qualification of those events as genocide that fall within the legal definition of genocide under the UN Convention of 1948.
Finally, we would also like to express our appreciation at the use of the photo toward the end of that particular segment of the episode. It was both a moving and powerful image to exit with - and we are left wondering whether the programme would have quibbled over its definition as 'genocide' if the picture of the emaciated victim boy had its setting in Kosovo, Timor, Rwanda or for that matter Germany .?!
It would be most desirable and welcome if Channel 4 - whose sound integrity and clear concern for minority issues has been a mainstay of its programmes over the years - were to produce a documentary on the genocides of the 20th century - including the Armenian Genocide of 1915. We at CRAG would be willing to lend a hand in terms of the resources and links for such a worthy and timely project. We also remain confident that many other Armenian and non-Armenian historians, academics, psychologists, lawyers, clergy or institues would lend C4 their expertise too.
Thanking you once again for your commendable efforts, and wishing you the best in the future
Dr Rostom Stepanian, FRCP, Chair, CRAG